Hi, my 15-year-old son is a very bright underachiever. He's a sophomore and taking several honors classes (Algebra 2, Geometry and Chemistry). He did well last year, A's, B's and 1-2 C's, and continued like this with his last report card. We just got his progress report and he got an F in English (he got an A last semester), a D in Algebra 2 and the rest were C's and B's. The teachers comments were "Does not work to potential, Effort has deteriorated, and Inconsistent effort." He's a great kid, does not get in trouble, we know his friends and their families well and like him do not get into trouble and generally do well in school. The only issue we have is his lack of motivation and we don't know what to do. We are afraid this problem is going to affect his future and his chances to get into college and pursue the career he's chosen (he wants to be a commercial pilot). We've punished him when he hasn't met expectations, but I don't think it really works. When we do his behavior changes until the next report card, but eventually he starts slacking again. The only thing he seems really interested in and passionate about is playing video games. If there was a class on playing PS3 he would have an A+.
What worries us even more is that his father and I were also bright but lacked motivation when we were teenagers and young adults. We're afraid he's headed down the same road. Life has been very difficult for us because of the choices we made, especially now with the economy the way it is. Neither one of us finished college and at first we had good jobs and managed to move up to middle class, but now things keep getting worse. Our incomes have gone down. If we were just getting started now I believe things would be much harder. How do we help him understand that his choices are going to have serious consequences in the next 2-3 years? Should we try and transfer him to a vocational school so he'll at least have a trade when he graduates?
By the way, we have an 11-year-old daughter who is just as bright but is very hard working. She is honor roll student and we never have to motivate her, it's just who she is. We've raised her the same way. We know she'll do well because it's not how smart you are, it's how hard you willing to work. Please help, we're getting desperate!
From: Diane, Chelsea
My big concern here is the video games. But let's put that aside for the moment.
Have you shared your full story with him as eloquently as you did for me?
You're right, punishing a teen for lack of performance doesn't work; he needs to be motivated from within. A reward for grades sometimes works; it doesn't have to be money as long as it's something a teen really wants, from car privileges to being excused from a chore for a week. But sometimes -- sometimes -- a heart-to-heart in which you share your own experiences and mistakes can make a difference. The trick is not to lecture. You can even cry, if it's genuine, but once it becomes a lecture, he will tune out.
You can offer to try to get him all the help he wants; I'm thinking peer tutors if finances are an issue (and, by the way, peer tutors can be fabulous) but he has to want this.
What's I'm really thinking about is finding help for him to kick the video games.
These games are incredibly addictive and this has become a huge problem for many teens, sapping them of their interest in everything else, including eating. My reporting shows that some teens are more susceptible than others, especially those who are depressed, shy, bored, bright, overwhelmed, or suffering from attention difficulties.
This article, by Cynthia Orzack, director of the Computer Addiction Study Center at McLean Hospital in Belmont, offers parents ways to attack the problem at home, most notably moving a computer out of teen's bedroom (yes, he won't exactly be happy; what else is new?) into a public space in the house, and setting limits on his computer time.
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